A plan presented by the Dutch Labour Party is proposing to ferry back refugees from the Greek islands to Turkey, in an attempt to control the influx of refugees into Europe.
The Netherlands, currently holding the European Union presidency, is gathering support for the plan among several EU member states including Germany, Diederik Samsom, the Labour party leader, told Dutch media on Thursday.
According to the plan, which is suggested for implementation this spring, refugees who arrive in Greece would be returned to Turkey almost immediately by ferry. In exchange, European Union member states would accept up to 250,000 refugees residing in Turkey a year.
The idea is to discourage refugees from taking the dangerous route by sea. Refugees trying to enter Europe via the Greek islands would be returned within a few days, according to the plan.
“The express highway for migrants between Greece and Turkey has to come to an end,” Samson told Dutch radio. “The Aegean Sea has become a mass grave; 3,700 people died there last year,” he added.
The implementation of the plan, which is said to have the support of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, would depend on Turkey having the status of a safe country for refugees.
To reach that status Turkey would have to adopt several laws and improve the situation for asylum seekers. “It has to become a safe country,” Samson said.
‘Violation of Geneva Convention’
The proposal is being severely criticised by academics and politicians in the Netherlands.
Professor Henk van Houtum, head of the Nijmegen Centre for Border Research Radboud University, described the proposal as “an example of a totally topsy-turvy world”.
“First, Europe creates some sort of survival of the fittest by forcing refugees to cross the sea in dangerous circumstances, because they cannot enter legally. Then, once the refugees have reached the other side; you send them back by boat again?
“This does not solve anything; it’s just transferring the problem elsewhere, to an unsafe country where they have no future.
“In fact, it is a violation of the Geneva Convention which says anyone who qualifies for refugee status should be granted asylum in the country where the application is made,” Van Houtum said.
‘Be like Australia’
Samson’s plan has similarities with the Australian asylum policy that was introduced in 2013.
In Australia, migrants who try to reach the country by boat have no chance of a permanent stay and are immediately sent to detention centres on Papua New Guinea and other surrounding islands.
Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders argued in April last year that the Netherlands’ refugee policy should be more like Australia’s. “At least they have the balls to stop the influx of migrants,” he said.
But now even Wilders appears to reject the ferry plan proposed by Samsom.
“What a useless plan,” he wrote on Twitter. “First we send the fortune seekers by boat to Turkey and then after that by plane to Europe and the Netherlands?”
The Dutch proposal to force a solution to the refugee crisis came just after Prime Minister Rutte said that the EU had six to eight weeks to reach an agreement on how to tackle immigration.
If not, “the EU will have to think about a plan B,” Rutte said, without elaborating.
Additional reporting by Fleur Launspach